Basketball: Blazing a trail of success

Sam Stott and Tony Low-McRae are among the many youngsters thriving at the Crags.
Sam Stott and Tony Low-McRae are among the many youngsters thriving at the Crags.
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The Crags Sport Centre is a bit like an ant hill – not a lot 
apparently happening on the outside, but a lot of work going 
on furiously inside.

In fact, it is a Blaze of activity.

It is now almost a year since Boroughmuir Basketball Club, in partnership with the Edinburgh city council and 
Basketballscotland, took over the management of what was once the South Side Sports Centre and then came under the 
umbrella of Edinburgh Leisure.

Now the home of Boroughmuir Blaze, the Capital’s second biggest national league basketball club, it is also a thriving hub of community sport and other events and booked out solidly every day, with the exception of Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings.

Volleyball, fencing, rollers, break dancing, indoor football training, unicycling and PE classes from Boroughmuir, James Gillespie’s and St Thomas’s High Schools are just some of the other activities 
going on in this enclave of Newington which looks onto Holyrood Park.

“Evenings are fully sold out – in fact we could book it three times over,” said the club’s 
Development Manager, New Zealander Simon Turner. “It’s had a really big impact on the club. Participation figures are up, membership figures are up and there’s a lot more 
interaction between members.”

Turner coaches the Blaze senior men’s team who reached the Scottish Cup semi-finals in their best performance since the heady days of Boroughmuir Barrs, who won the trophy a record ten times in the Sixties and Seventies.

Blaze junior men (under-18) and cadet men (under-16), with respective coaches Alan 
McDonald and Adrian Flynn, have done even better, both reaching their respective finals at the Lagoon Centre in Paisley in February.

“We always took a long-term approach and we took some beatings from some of the bigger clubs such as Edinburgh Kings and Falkirk Fury – Turner remembers one 70-point defeat at the hands of Falkirk – but now we’re competing with all these clubs on a successful level.”

Recreational “drop-in” 
sessions are proving very popular with the likes of students, where adults pay £2 and youngsters £1 and can join in “pick-up” games.

Another vital part of the plan, which helps keeps costs down and has long been the case in other countries such as 
Denmark and New Zealand, is that regular community users become key holders: “I think it’s unique in this country,” said Turner. “Community groups have really warmed to the community ethos of the place – there’s free Wifi and tea and coffee, and a real sense of shared responsibility,” he claimed.

A recent development has been a session for under-eights in the main hall with a playgroup for toddlers going on at the same time in the studio to help parents.

“It’s growing very quickly, there’s a new generation of kids who come along after school and during holidays and we provide a central point for them here,” Turner went on.

NUVOC national league volleyball club Auld Reekie Roller Girls and Prestige and Spartans Lothian League basketball teams are other clubs who have found a home there and Turner believes that the arrangement with volleyball is working well, as they are away when Blaze have their home games and vice versa.

Perhaps the most promising development is their collaboration with Polonia Phoenix women’s basketball club, which has led to the setting up of a mixed under-12s section.

“I can see the two clubs working more closely together in future,” says Turner cautiously.